That land was beautiful with its dry skies and cobbled streets. If I close my eyes, I can still smell its dusty breeze, and when I open them, I imagine looking out over the long tide licking at the land’s rugged ramparts. My thoughts ride on the roaring of those same waves, crest the round stones of Sintra or the ridges and waterfalls of Gerês, and toil through the pebbled pastures of the Serra de Estrela—then I feel almost at home.
But now I am here, wherever here may be, and I love this place.
Here is Colorado with its steel mountains and dry prairie. My brother and sister-in-law live here, and I climbed a mountain with them, a thirteener that brought me to the world’s roof where the lands are wide and civilization diminutive and the sky all-enveloping. I feel far from everywhere here, yet close to everything. It feels closer somehow to home. I think it’s the sky.
Closer perhaps, but not quite home.
The quaint cottage in the Smokies is further from the sky’s divinity, yet closer to my spirit. Through Tennessee’s mythological haze, I imagine myself an ageless hermit perching on a leaning porch, watching over the golden valley as it drinks from a mountain stream.
But again no. Not Tennessee. My myth solidifies in my terra—my homeland of Portugal—to the north, where crags rise in monumental praise to a golden sky. Here is the Serra de Estrela with its mountainous eggs of rock perched on razor-sharp ridges that roll to a soft rest in the lush valley pastures. Here I found God’s own hoard of blackberries, each as large as my thumb.
But to tell the truth, I have drank from the Serra’s streams only three times, cumulating in a total visit of under two weeks. If this place can make me think of home, then so can many, many more.
Here may also be the Amazon: Leticia, Tabatinga, São Paulo de Olivença, Santo Antonia da Iça. This rio-mar—this ocean river—was home for a month. Here I killed the jararaca pit viper, caught the jacarécaiman, and tasted the renowned three meter pirarucu river-monster. Here I first did a backflip into the water. Here I felt free, and for that month, I nearly felt at home.
A mountain view, the ocean’s whispered roar, glinting sunshine through swaying leaves, wandering the woods, the smell of brine and that of freshly baked dough—all remind me of home. But now I am here, in the flatlands of the Midwest, where the glaciers crushed all but the most hidden river valleys, and here I call home. Home is a warm word that hums in the top of the throat and rolls out with a soft closure of the lips. It is a fleshy, earthy word, yet I stumble over it here, wondering what to call this place where I live. Am I ready to name it home?
I haunt its low places for peace—those river valleys that escaped the glacial purge. Indian Mounds State Park and John Bryan and Hocking Hills in Ohio, the marvelous Red River Gorge in Kentucky, Hoffmaster in Michigan, and Twin Lakes Camp in Indiana. Here I can catch those glints and smells that reawaken my longing for home, for a place where the sun tingles your skin and the scented air breathes energy right into you.
Here I am, enjoying but hoping. Wondering if the land I remember so well—in snatches of smells and sights and sounds—wondering if it will remember me.
If home is where the heart is, mine’s in pieces spread across the world. I have descended the rampart coasts of Sicily and broken the crystal waters of the Mediterranean. I have ascended the sheer slopes of the Alps with their wise white heads. I have paddled the Little Miami River and through the verdant vastness of rainforest tributaries. I’ve roamed the Andalusia and looked across Gibraltar to the hazy mountains of Morocco and the dark continent. One day I might find a home beyond those misty shores.
But nowhere yet have I found my heart. Nowhere yet have I found my home.
This whole mottled earth is my home, I guess, for there is none better. Yet my heart lingers somewhere between here and the warm morning sun which awakens me to a new day coming. And I can only pray that that day comes soon, for it brings my heart with it.